Birth is personal, miraculous, mundane. Mothers and fathers have been profoundly transformed by the experience of having a child as far back as human beings can remember, and yet we accomplish it with no training or even forethought.
Now consider cliques, teams, buddies, clubs, tribes, neighborhoods and nations: Community is just as fundamentally a part of our humanness, whether we connect for shared needs, shared desires or shared meaning.
I’m confident that, like birth, communities have been happening since at least the dawn of human consciousness… that they, in fact, came before self-awareness, and that to avoid community requires great effort.
Now that we are focused on it, now that we want so much to consciously create it, it has somehow become (for many) a Herculean Undertaking.
Look at what has happened to modern Western childbirth and perhaps we can find clues of pitfalls to avoid when seeking to create and/or tap Online and otherwise-conscious communities.
More to the point, however, is that in retrospect, the social network—the development of web communities—was inevitable, because it is what we do, and to a great degree, it is who we are.
At my favorite wireless café/laundromat, the washing machines are (understandably) in an adjoining shop to the café, so customers who use both services must leave their table to check on their clothes. Recently, I settled down with computer and coffee on a comfy couch, not far from another laundry/café customer, and got going with a project. After awhile, she asked me to watch her stuff while she went next door. Next, it was my turn. The other customer simply looked up and nodded as I moved passed her. I smiled, understanding that I didn’t have to say a word—my computer would be safe.
When I came back, there was a third person, seated near my spot on the couch, who looked at me sheepishly and confessed she had accidentally sipped my coffee. She offered to buy a replacement, and all three of us shared a laugh while our new café companion described how the first had looked up and gasped, attempting to warn her of her mistake (but not quite in time).
When I got up to leave, the first customer was over in the laundromat. I couldn’t wait for her, so the second took over the “watch”. I popped into the laundromat to let the first customer know what was going on, and exchanged a hurried, but friendly, goodbye.
This is a big city—it’s unlikely any of us will ever meet again. It was a short-lived community of three, begun and ended with grace, and some other nice human qualities.
As we involve ourselves in the art and science of creating online communities, it’s important to remember that human communities surround us, and are born and re-born constantly, with or without Web 2.0, PHP or Ajax. They are a natural, abundant and profoundly renewable resource.
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